The World Energy & Meteorology Council (WEMC) has members across the globe, from a variety of backgrounds and expertise, doing work on a range of important issues to strengthen energy and meteorology education, research and collaboration. We welcome posts from our members communicating the fantastic work that they do. We are delighted to share with you this opinion piece written by Sebastian Sterl, a WEMC member from the Free University of Brussels (VUB). If you are interested in becoming a WEMC member (it’s free!), find out more by clicking here.

Climate services for a renewable future in West Africa

Sebastian Sterl (Researcher on Energy & Climate, Free University of Brussels (VUB)). Edited by Kit Rackley & Debbie Woodliffe.

Sustainable provision of clean energy is a pressing challenge in the fight against climate change. In West Africa, renewable electricity generation is heavily dominated by hydropower. Dependence on hydropower has led to drought-related power crises in the past in several West African countries. Recently, however, solar and wind power have been making inroads, which – next to spelling good news for emissions reduction – will diversify renewable portfolios, helping to mitigate the risk of hydro-dependence while helping to sustainably meet the increasing energy needs of a growing population.

At the same time, solar and wind power come with their own challenges. To ensure optimal grid integration of renewables, while safeguarding environmental integrity and ensuring resilience against the consequences of climate change, smart strategies will be needed for renewables’ deployment, hydropower operation, transmission grid reinforcement, and flexibility enhancement. The CIREG project aims to provide tailored climate services to address these issues, bridging the gap between science and policymaking and integrating climate, energy and water modelling.

In October and November 2019, a team of scientists in the CIREG project – from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Kenya, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden – participated in and organized various events in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The objective of this scientific mission was to promote capacity building, disseminate scientific findings, and enhance the relevance of our climate service provision.

First, we joined in the annual Sustainable Energy Forum of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) in Accra. This forum brought together high-level representatives from governments, public institutions, NGOs, the private and financial sector, and academia for a three-day program, full of discussions on the technical and policy challenges needed to set West Africa on a path towards sustainable energy.

The conference included talks on topics such as the grid integration of variable renewables; the planning of the West African Power Pool (WAPP); the policies, rules and tariffs needed for a well-functioning regional electricity market; the reduction of investment risk in the renewable energy sector; the role of the off-grid market; the role of gender in energy access; technological advances in the digitalization of the energy sector; and many others. We were able to exchange with various other attending parties on the science-based climate services delivered by the CIREG project for the renewable electricity sector, from which emerged promising potential collaborations in West Africa and even elsewhere.

Second, we organized a four-day workshop in Accra on energy and water resource modelling, with different sessions aimed at either decision makers or technical experts from institutions such as Ghana’s Energy Commission, Ghana GridCo, the Water Resource Commission, the Volta River Authority, &c. This was a follow-up to a workshop series delivered in March 2019 to the same stakeholders by the CIREG project, and was once again led by colleagues from WASCAL (the West African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adapted Land Use) and SEI (the Stockholm Environment Institute).

For the workshops, we set up hands-on training modules for the policy planning tools LEAP (for energy planning) and WEAP (for water resources planning), focusing on the Ghanaian context. Additionally, we provided various sessions on the process-based models SWIM (for hydrological simulations) and REVUB (a new model developed within the CIREG project, for assessing renewable energy mix optimization and hydropower-driven flexibility). Interactive discussions with the various participants showed that the CIREG project is well-poised to answer questions such as “how much solar PV capacity could be complementary to the Bui hydropower plant” or “what is the expected impact of climate change on the operation of Akosombo dam” by providing the relevant climate services.

Third, having closed the Accra workshops after a very fruitful four days, some CIREG members travelled on to Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou in order to repeat the procedure. With participants from Burkina Faso, Togo and Niger, drawn once again from the energy and water sectors and representing organisations such as Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Energy and the national utility company SONABEL, we provided French-language hands-on training on the LEAP, WEAP, SWIM and REVUB models focused on the Burkinese situation. Again, the CIREG team emphasized how it can help in finding answers to pressing questions such as “what strategy could Burkina Faso follow for renewables’ deployment in a West African electricity market?” or “what does uncertainty in climate projections mean for hydropower development in Burkina Faso?” During the workshops, other CIREG team members held various meetings with Ghanaian and Burkinese institutions in the energy and water sectors in order to exchange on climate service requirements. The objective of such meetings is to ensure that the scientific information provided by the CIREG project is in line with stakeholders’ needs and expectations, and identify the best information-sharing channels to ensure that the science-policy gap can be truly bridged.

We look back on several weeks of intense but productive activities, and forward to continuing our scientific work in 2020.  This work is perfectly aligned with the aims and collaborative efforts of WEMC. We would be delighted to receive feedback on this work from specialists in the field including from WEMC members.💡

The CIREG team consists of:

  • PIK – Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Potsdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung)
  • WASCAL – West African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adapted Land Use
  • SEI — Stockholm Environment Institute
  • VUB – Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • DTU – Technical University of Denmark (Danmarks Tekniske Universitet)
  • ZEF – Center for Development Research (Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung)

You can follow Sebastian Sterl and his work on Twitter (@sebastiansterl) and LinkedIn. if you wish to lend your thoughts and expertise to this project and others that WEMC members are involved in, becoming a member yourself can help you make connections and facilitate collaboration. 

Disclaimer: This post represents the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of WEMC or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

WEMC Member Guest Blogs & Contributions: 

Burkina FasoCIREG ProjectClimate ChangeECOWAS Centre For Renewable Energy And Energy Efficiency (ECREEE)ECREEEGhanaKenyaNigerRenewable EnergySebastian SterlWASCALWEMC MembershipWest AfricaWest African Power Pool (WAPP)